By Derek Emadi, Emadi Acres
Moving from a decent paying job to a job that reduces your income to below the poverty level is scary! But once you’re at the bottom, you know there is only one way to go. I conceded to my wife before I quit my teaching job that she would be the breadwinner for many years to come. It doesn’t bother me in the least bit, and she is completely cool with it. Man, am I lucky!
If I had a chance to do college all over again, I would have majored in agriculture and minored in business instead of going the psychology route. At times I feel clueless when it comes to the businessman’s mentality. I got into farming to farm, and admittedly overlooked the business side of things. The desire to accumulate wealth isn’t a strong sense I carry with me, but farming to make great food and provide for my family drives me. While I’m learning as I go, I would recommend any future farmers start learning business in tandem with farming. It’s something I wish I was well versed at.
Farming is a business as much as anything else, and like all businesses, you have to learn to play the numbers game. Is this venture worth the time, risk, and effort? When will I get my money back? How will I be profitable in the meantime?
For example, let’s say you have 20 chickens. If you buy the chickens as chicks for $4 each, that is an initial $80 investment. They will not make any money for you as egg-layers for at least 7-8 months. If you buy conventional feed for them, they will consume a 50-pound bag of feed per month at about $13 per bag. So that’s another $91 you pay before they can make you money. Once you throw in additional costs for their coop/pen, fencing, waterers and such, you will find yourself about $300 in the hole for seven months, and that’s if you get lucky and find cheap materials.
Then—at last—they begin to lay eggs, and it’s time to start making money. Hopefully you get some good layers who can produce 5 eggs a week per bird. You’ll have 400 eggs per month before you know it. While 400 eggs sounds like a lot, it will still take a few months to recoup your $300. I sell my pasture raised eggs for $4 a dozen. So for about 33 dozen eggs at $4 each, that is $132 for the month. You won’t begin to see a profit till the ninth or tenth month at the earliest. Can you imagine another job that takes 9-10 months to turn a profit of a few hundred dollars? Probably not, but that’s small farming.
While some avenues take a while to turn a profit, others don’t, which is why it is important to diversify if you are a small farm. I would not recommend thinking you can have just a few layers and stay afloat. It’s vital to have things making money for you while others aren’t.
As I have mentioned in a previous post, I thought I would be able to have my hand in many pots, doing it all in an effort to have a profitable farm, but there are limits to one’s stubbornness. At times you will undoubtedly come to admit “it’s just not working.” For me, it was the goats. Goats proved to be too frustrating to deal with, as they are formidable barrier breakers and I never enjoyed my vegetables and orchard trees being turned into goat fodder. They were sold before the center vein on my forehead burst. While diversity is key to success, learn what you are good at and manage your time accordingly.
Because social media is free to use, it has been the easiest way for me to promote my farm and access new customers. My favorite way of gaining new customers, though, has always been word of mouth. You know you are doing something right when the neighbor of a customer inquires about your produce.
As I move forward with expanding my CSA deliveries, I enjoy the reach social media has given me. CSA deliveries give me hope about improving my current income situation. I’m planning on supporting a 20-person client list by spring 2016. I remember starting with one person, then moving to two and three, and then 10.
I reluctantly have to admit that when I began farming, I didn’t have a business plan. But moving forward with more experience under my belt, I understand I have to work in a more strategic and profit-driven manner.